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News: Estimating the size of fish stocks proves quite difficult

NOAA scientist says federal fish counts suffer from ‘perception issue’

Ledyard King, USATODAY

WASHINGTON, January 22, 2016

It’s not easy counting fish. Just ask the people who have to do it.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s fisheries division is responsible for estimating the health and size of dozens of fish stocks in U.S. waters, measurements that help eight regional councils determine which fish commercial and recreational anglers are allowed to catch.

The accuracy of NOAA’s counts is at the heart of a national debate over whether to loosen current catch limits.

NOAA defends the data, obtained through a combination of sampling methods and statistical models. But recreational fishermen and their backers on Capitol Hill, who want to loosen the catch limits, claim they’re based on “flawed science.”

The debate comes as Congress considers reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the law that governs management of federal fisheries.

Richard Merrick, NOAA’s chief fisheries scientist, believes the fish counts are “statistically robust” but acknowledges NOAA could do a better job explaining how it conducts the counts and building trust among stakeholders.

Merrick recently talked with USA TODAY about why NOAA’s counts are under attack and options for improving them.

Question: Some stakeholders, particularly the recreational fishing industry, don’t think you’re counting correctly.

Answer: “There’s a perception issue. From the science side, we’re sort of naive. We think, yeah, (the science) should establish that (the counts are) really good. But clearly if you listen to what’s happening in the Gulf, and listen to recreational fishermen, it sounds like there’s a problem. And if you listen to our congressional delegations, there’s a problem.

NOTE: Featured Image credit NOAA.

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